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Rebecca's Promise, Page 2

Frances R. Sterrett


  Rebecca Mary walked home on air. If she didn't hippity-hop outside, shedid inside. She held her head high, and her gray eyes were almost blackwith excitement. A delightful mystery tingled through her. Usually whenRebecca Mary walked home from down town she had to wonder whether shemight have bought her gloves cheaper if she had gone to the Big Store orif the shoes at Ballok's were better for the money. But as she walkedswiftly home from the Waloo that May afternoon she never once rememberedwhat might have been saved. She had pleasanter things than saving tothink of.

  I doubt very much if Rebecca Mary would have kept her promise to CousinSusan if it had not been for that mysterious four-leaf clover. Not thatRebecca Mary was the sort of girl to regard a promise as a new laid egg,easily broken, for she wasn't. When Rebecca Mary made a promise it wasgenerally as solid and unbreakable as a block of concrete. But she didthink that Cousin Susan was such a sentimental old silly, and anyway herold age could never be Cousin Susan's old age and consequently itdidn't really matter a copper cent to Cousin Susan how poor anddependent Rebecca Mary was when she was fifty. Rebecca Mary shuddered atthe mere thought of being fifty. Looking back, she saw a long stretch ofyesterdays, an awful gray and uninteresting distance, and if she didn'twish to have it fifty years long, fifty times three hundred andsixty-five stupid gray days, why, really it was time to do something, asCousin Susan had said, to introduce another color. The four-leaf cloverpresented quite a touch of another color, and the bright green was aspuzzling as it was brightening for it never hinted in any curve orcrumple where it came from.

  But some one must have deliberately thrust it into her hand. It nevercould have reached her fingers by any kind of an accident. And who wasthe thruster? How Rebecca Mary would like to have that question answeredin the way she imagined it might be answered! She wanted to be told inshort convincing words that young Peter Simmons had given her thetalisman, but Common Sense jumped to her shoulder and whispered in herear that that was not only ridiculous, it was impossible. Impossible maybe, as Mirabeau insisted, a stupid word, and yet it is a word whichquite frequently stands like a stone wall in front of people. RebeccaMary did not need Common Sense to tell her that young aviator heroes donot carry four-leaf clovers carelessly in their pockets. But then whodoes in a town like Waloo where patches of four-leaf clovers are asscarce as paving stones are plenty? It was curious and irritating andaltogether amazingly delightful. Rebecca Mary scarcely thought of thethird grade of the Lincoln school that evening, and she most certainlydid not dream of the third grade of the Lincoln school that night.

  You can easily imagine how disappointed Rebecca Mary was when shereceived the first invitation to which she was to say "Yes, thank you,"instead of the "I can't possibly" which had always slipped soautomatically over her lips. By all the rules of romance she had everyright to expect that it would be to some gathering which would bring herat least in sight of young Peter Simmons, and so when Olga Klavachekbegged her to come and see their new baby she did have to make an effortto keep the old negative phrase from popping out of her mouth, for whaton earth would she get for her old age meditation, what memoryinsurance, Cousin Susan had called it, at Klavachek's?

  But she had promised Cousin Susan so she let Olga take her hand and wentto see the new baby. Mrs. Klavachek was as round-faced and as plump asOlga, and although she spoke no English, and Rebecca Mary spoke noSlavic, they managed to understand each other very well. A baby is ababy and even a baby tied in a big feather pillow cannot be mistaken fora new hat or a new arm chair. The Klavachek baby was as round as abutter ball and had eyes like bright brown beads. Rebecca Mary couldhonestly admire him, and Mrs. Klavachek beamed on "Olga's teacher lady."

  Besides the new baby Olga showed Rebecca Mary her mother's new shoes andher father's new boots and the wonderful earrings her mother had broughtfrom Serbia and the new broom she had bought up on Poplar Avenue and theflag her papa had got off the place where he worked, the Peter SimmonsFactory, and the calendar which the butcher had given her and thepicture of George Washington which she had begged from the grocerbecause George Washington was her father now that she was an Americanand George Washington was the father of America.

  At last Olga had nothing more to show, and while she tried to think ofsome other way to entertain and surprise "teacher" Rebecca Mary toldMrs. Klavachek again what a dear roly-poly baby she had, and Mrs.Klavachek caught Rebecca Mary's hand and said in her best Slavic thatshe would never forget her from-heavenly-goodness to Olga, and shekissed Rebecca Mary's fingers with warm grateful lips. No one had everkissed Rebecca Mary's hand before, and the caress gave her an oddsensation quite as if she were a feudal lady with castles and steeluniformed retainers. She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chinand looked like a feudal lady as she said good-by to the Klavacheks andwent up the street, a smile on her lips, a laugh in her eyes. She neverwould forget how funny the Klavachek baby had looked tied up in the bigfeather pillow.

  She turned down Poplar Avenue where the broom had lived before it movedto the Klavachek kitchen and waited for her street car, thankinggoodness that she was not Mrs. Klavachek. She would rather be a shabbyworked-to-death teacher with a threatening old age which shows that shehad already benefited from social intercourse. It so often makes onemore satisfied with one's own lot to take a look at the lot of some oneelse. Rebecca Mary was still thanking goodness when a limousine drew upbeside her. She stepped back as if she thought it intended to run rightover her.

  "I beg your pardon," called a soft voice through the open window. "Butcan you tell me where River Street is?" The owner of the soft voice musthave thought that Rebecca Mary was a settlement worker or an AssociatedCharities visitor and so would know where any street was. "I am lookingfor a family by the name of Klavachek."

  "Why, I've just come from Klavacheks'!" exclaimed Rebecca Mary. Shecould scarcely believe that it was the ungrandmotherly grandmother ofthe Waloo tea room who was leaning forward to speak to her.Involuntarily she looked for young Peter Simmons, but unless he had beentransformed into a card board box he was not in that limousine.

  "Then you can tell me exactly how to find them. I understand there is anew baby, and I am taking Mrs. Klavachek a few things. Mr. Klavachekworks for my husband at the Peter Simmons Factory," she explained as ifshe could read the question which darted into Rebecca Mary's mind. "I aminterested in all the new babies that come to our men."

  Rebecca Mary looked at the few things. They filled the seat, and Mrs.Simmons had the grace to blush.

  "I hope you are not a settlement worker who will scold me forindiscriminate giving? Perhaps it is dreadful, but it is good for me,and really I don't believe that it could be bad for Mrs. Klavachek. Itcan't be bad for a woman in a strange country to know that another womanis interested in her, can it?"

  "Indeed, it can't!" exclaimed Rebecca Mary, as if she knew anythingabout it. "It would be splendid for any woman to think that you wereinterested in her!" she added impulsively as she looked into the sweetold face of Mrs. Peter Simmons. And she explained that if the limousinewould turn the corner and go two blocks and stop at the little purplehouse it would surely find Mrs. Klavachek and her new baby. "The newbaby is a love!" Rebecca Mary's eyes crinkled as she told how dear thenew baby had looked tied in a big feather pillow.

  "Thank you so much." Mrs. Simmons seemed very grateful for the carefuldirection. "Didn't I see you at the Waloo the other afternoon?" sheasked suddenly. "Didn't you love that new fox trot?" She smiled as shedrove away before Rebecca Mary could say whether she did or didn't lovethe new fox trot.

  Rebecca Mary had time to gaze after her before a long yellow street carcame and picked her up, and she thought again how very ungrandmotherlyMrs. Peter Simmons was with her twinkling face and her love of new foxtrots. The grandmothers Rebecca Mary knew were staid, sedate women withaprons and knitting.

  The second invitation to which Rebecca Mary had an opportunity to say"Yes, thank you" came the very next evening when one of the teachers
inthe Lincoln school offered her a ticket to a travel talk in anauditorium not three blocks from Rebecca Mary's "one room, kitchenetteand bath." There must have been seven or eight hundred people there sothat Rebecca Mary might be excused for looking for--old Mrs. Simmons,she told herself. But Mrs. Simmons was not there so far as Rebecca Marycould see, neither was her grandson. They were not at the school social,which was Rebecca Mary's next festal affair, nor at the concert to whichshe went with a woman who lived in the next apartment, and who wasscared to death to go out after dark alone. Rebecca Mary began to losefaith in the crumpled clover leaf which she had put in an old locket andcarried in her pocket, and no wonder. A talisman which was worth itssalt should have brought better luck.

  It was not as easy for Rebecca Mary to change the point of view whichshe had carefully cultivated for so many years as it would have been forher to change a blouse. There were many times when it seemed as if shejust couldn't say "Yes, thank you." It would have been so much easier ifshe could have wrapped her old point of view in brown paper and carriedit to a clerk at Bullok's or the Big Store and explained that it didn'tfit at all, that it was far too narrow and too tight, and she shouldlike to exchange it for one that was much larger and broader and whichhad some mystery in its frills. It seemed such bad management on thepart of some one that there wasn't an exchange department for points ofview at one of the big stores. But as there wasn't she did her best, andshe had to see that the second time was easier than the first and thethird time was easier than the second.

  "If I live to be a hundred," she told herself a little impatiently oneday, "I shall probably say 'Yes, thank you' mechanically. But by thattime I won't care what I say, and no one else will care. Oh, dear, Ialmost wish Cousin Susan hadn't taken me to the Waloo for tea that dayand stirred me all up. What's the use of thinking about things I can'tever have?"

  And then because Cousin Susan had stirred her all up she threw out herlittle chin and clicked her white teeth together and murmured that shewould have the things she thought about, yes, she would! She wouldn't beall stirred up for nothing. She just would have some good times toremember when she was an old woman and had nothing to do but rememberthe past.

  In her eagerness to find the good times she forgot to frown and toscowl. Even the walk to school became interesting when she thought thatromance might lurk around the corner, and as Rebecca Mary bravelystruggled to forget her cares and see only her opportunities she beganto look more like a real live girl, a girl who might have adventures.The sullen frown left her face, indeed, a little smile often tilted thecorners of her lips as she let her imagination run riot. There was a newspring in her step because there was a new hope in her heart. Perhapsthe four-leaf clover would bring something into her life besides taxesand insurance premiums.

  At the Lincoln school where Rebecca Mary taught the third grade theprincipal believed firmly in a close relation between the home and theschool, and to bring about this closer relation each teacher wasexpected to visit the family of each pupil at least once a term. RebeccaMary was appalled when she discovered that it was the next to the lastweek of the term and she remembered how many calls she owed. While shewas making out a list to be paid that very afternoon the principal camein to tell her that an urgent telephone message had just asked JoanBefort's teacher to come to Beforts' as soon as she possibly could.

  "I said you would be down at once," went on Miss Weir. "Was Joan atschool to-day?"

  No, Rebecca Mary remembered that Joan hadn't been at school either thatmorning or that afternoon.

  "Probably measles or mumps," prophesied Miss Weir, who had been madewise by years of experience. "Foreigners are so helpless at times. Youwill have to explain that the quarantine laws must be obeyed. What doyou know about the Beforts?"

  Rebecca Mary blushed, for when Miss Weir asked her she discovered thatshe knew very very little about the Beforts.

  "Joan's mother is dead, and she and her father live with an old womanwho keeps house for them." Rebecca Mary tried her best to make acomplete garment out of her very small pattern. "Joan is devoted to herfather. He took her to the Waloo for tea the other afternoon. It wasJoan's birthday, and she gave me the violets her father had given her."Rebecca Mary's chin tilted a bit as she told her principal that she,too, had been at the popular Waloo for tea. "Joan is an odd child,different from the others. It isn't only that she is a foreigner,you know she has only been in this country a short time, and shehas picked up a very American way of expressing herself, butunderneath--underneath--" she floundered helplessly.

  "Yes?" Miss Weir waited for her to explain that "underneath," and whenRebecca Mary just stammered on she said gently, but, oh, so firmly:"That is why I ask you to visit the homes, so that you can understandthe 'underneath.'"

  "Yes," murmured Rebecca Mary meekly, but when Miss Weir had gone withDisapproval shouting, "Fie, fie, Rebecca Mary Wyman," from her unbendingback Rebecca Mary was anything but meek. She stamped her foot and threwa book on the floor and murmured rebelliously that the days would haveto be three times as long as they were if she were to get "underneath"the forty children in her room.

  She found the house, a modest frame cottage, in a block which held onlyone other house. Joan was sitting on the steps, and she looked verysmall and very forlorn until she saw Rebecca Mary. She jumped to herfeet and stood waiting, her arms full of what Rebecca Mary naturallythought were playthings. She wore her hat and had a suit case on thesteps beside her.

  "Oh dear Miss Wyman!" she called joyously. "I thought you'd never come.Mrs. Lee, over there," she nodded toward the next house, "said youcouldn't be here a minute before half-past three." She looked at thesmall silver clock which was one of the things she held and shook it forthe clock said plainly that in its opinion it was a quarter to four."This must be an ignorant clock," she decided with a frown, "for I knowyou wouldn't wait a minute when you knew I wanted you. It doesn't matternow, and I'm to tell you that I'm to be your little girl!" She was quiteenchanted by the prospect, and she expected Rebecca Mary to beenchanted, too.

  "My goodness gracious!" And Rebecca Mary frowned. Old habits are hard tobreak. "What do you mean, Joan?"

  Joan was only too ready to explain. "You see my father has gone away fora long long time, we don't know how long, and Mrs. Muldoon, who keepsour house for us, has gone, too. She said I was to stay with you untilshe came back because at Mrs. Lee's they have scarlet fever upstairs andthe mumps downstairs." Rebecca Mary could see for herself that Mrs. Leehad scarlet fever. A card on the house was actually red in the face withits efforts to tell her that Mrs. Lee had scarlet fever. "Mrs. Muldoonsaid she guessed my teacher was an all right person to leave me with,and so she's loaned me to you. Yes, she has!" as Rebecca Mary seemedunable to believe it. "I'm loaned to you until my father or Mrs. Muldooncomes home again. Aren't you glad?" Her lip quivered for Rebecca Marylooked anything but glad.

  Rebecca Mary couldn't say she was glad, either. She seemed to have losther tongue for she just stood there and looked down at black-haired,black-eyed Joan and wondered what in the world she would do if Joan'sabsurd story was true.

  "Are you Joan's teacher?" called Mrs. Lee from next door. "Mrs. Muldoonwas sure that you would look after Joan while she was away. Her son inKansas City is sick. She went as soon as she got the telegram, and shesaid she didn't know a living soul who would look after Joan until shethought of you. I'd be glad to take her in here if the health officerwould let me. If you can't look after her I suppose the AssociatedCharities could find some one," she suggested.

  "Oh, no!" exclaimed Rebecca Mary. Joan did not seem at all like anAssociated Charities case. Bewildered as Rebecca Mary was she could seethat.

  "That's what I thought, and Mrs. Muldoon thought so, too. Mr. Befort isaway on business she said. They're nice people, used to much betterdays, I'd say. You won't have a mite of trouble with Joan."

  "Not a mite!" promised Joan, winking fast to keep the tears in her blackeyes. It wasn't pleasant to be loaned to a teacher who didn't wa
nt toborrow. "I'll be so good you'll never know I'm there!"

  "Shan't I?" Rebecca Mary visualized the tiny apartment she had sharedwith a fellow teacher until Miss Stimson had been called home by theillness of her mother. At first Rebecca Mary had liked to be alone, buteven before Cousin Susan talked to her as only a relative can talk toone, she had wished for a companion, not an eight-year-old companion shethought quickly as she looked at Joan. Goodness knows, she had enough ofchildren during school hours. But what could she do? Plainly Mrs. Leeand Joan expected her to take Joan home and keep her indefinitely. Itwas absurd. But if she didn't take her there was only the AssociatedCharities.

  A little hand clutched her arm. "You aren't h-happy because I-I'm loanedto you," faltered a trembling little voice.

  Rebecca Mary was almost unkind enough to say she wasn't and to ask howshe could be, but the sob in Joan's voice made her ashamed of herselfand her frown. She dropped down on the top step and put her arms aroundJoan and her clock and a framed picture and a potato masher which shediscovered made the odd collection in Joan's arms. The potato masher hither nose and she frowned again.

  Joan leaned against her with a tired sigh. "It's--it's very hard when noone wants you," she hiccoughed.

  Rebecca Mary knew just how hard it was, but she didn't say so. Her backwas toward the street so that she did not see a limousine coming towardthem. It stopped in front of the cottage, and if it hadn't been for thefour-leaf clover in her pocket Rebecca Mary would have been very muchsurprised to hear Mrs. Peter Simmons' voice.

  "Does Mr. Frederick Befort live here? Upon my word!" as Rebecca Maryjumped up and faced her. "I wondered if we should meet again. Mr. Befortis one of the men at the factory so I have come to get acquainted withhis family," she explained with a friendly smile.

  "That's me!" Joan was on her toes with importance. "I'm all the familyMr. Frederick Befort has, but I'm loaned to Miss Wyman!"